/ 11 July 2009

Madagascar’s president mulls pardon for ousted leader

Madagascar’s army-backed president has said he could pardon his predecessor Marc Ravalomanana in a move that could block the exiled former leader from contesting future elections.

Madagascar has been shaken by political instability since Andry Rajoelina toppled Ravalomanana in March, branding him corrupt and dictatorial. The power grab alarmed foreign investors, spooked tourists and stunted economic growth.

”It is within my powers to issue a pardon, but I haven’t thought about it much yet,” he said late on Friday in an interview with selected journalists.

A Madagascar court last month sentenced Ravalomanana in absentia to four years in jail for abuse of office in the purchase of a $60-million presidential jet.

The former president called the charges unfounded.

”While a pardon erases the sentence, it does not annul the crime. If the crime is not scrubbed out it is likely he would not be eligible to stand as a candidate,” constitutional law expert Jean Eric Rakotoarisoa told Reuters.

Distanced from a faltering peace process, Ravalomanana looks increasingly unlikely to regain the presidency as time entrenches the 35-year-old Rajoelina.

Former DJ Rajoelina — whose island is attracting investors in its mineral and energy sectors — said his government could hold fresh elections before the end of the year, confirming an earlier statement by the foreign minister.

”According to our programme, we can organise a referendum [on a new Constitution] in September. Elections can be organised by the end of the year. That’s our proposal, but we need help.”

Rajoelina has said previously that elections would be held by the end of 2010, but a poll could take place earlier under the right conditions. The timing of elections and who will be able to stand have been sticking points for feuding political parties.

Madagascar’s opposition groups say Rajoelina, who has scrapped the Constitution and established an interim government, must not be allowed to plan a poll unilaterally.

African Union-led crisis talks recently collapsed over amnesty demands from delegations representing Ravalomanana and Didier Ratsiraka — another exiled former president.

The Southern African Development Community has appointed former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, who is currently in Madagascar, to revive the deadlocked negotiations. – Reuters